Monday, August 30, 2004

 
I will be away for several days because I am the set and lighting designer of a brand new chamber opera that's premiering at the Hackmatack Playhouse in South Berwick, Maine on Friday. M., my close colleague from Theater Arts at MIT, wrote the libretto and the music was written by one of our good buddies in the Music half of Music & Theater Arts. This will be the second of their operas that I will have designed.

The story is based loosely on the life of the highly respected (and selling for higher and higher prices all the time) painter Fairfield Porter. Married and with family, Porter had liasons (an extremely high priced word for sex) with a couple of young men during his career. I was being just a bit too sarcastic there, because there seems to have been great affection as well as sex in his extra-marital relationships with young men. The opera take splace in the late 1940s on the patio overlooking the Atlantic of a mature, famous artist's property in Maine. He and his wife are hosting a young couple about to be married, a young painter who is a veteran of the war and his socialite fiancee. While the artist's wife and the younger woman are off doing something, the young artist boldly urges his older mentor to come to New York with him to help hang an exhibition--and also to live together as lovers to see if they can make a go of it long term.

The artist is deeply stirred--and afraid. His brother shows up for cocktails and isn't shocked by what the artist confides to him; in fact he encourages his brother to give it a go in New York and come to grips with who he really is. After a period alone to pull his chaotic thoughts together, the artist joins the others on the patio and, in toasting his wife, makes it obvious that he will stay with his current life, and let the young couple go off to make what they can of a life together given what we now know about the young, closeted artist.

I heard most of the opera tonight in a first runthrough. The music is lush, with a strong sense of melancholy, and very "late Romantic" as filtered through contemporary harmonies. It sounded great as played by a trio of piano, violin and cello. We bring it into Boston in mid-September.


Sunday, August 29, 2004

 
Fritz and I were very good boys this weekend--two weeks after the big celebration of our marriage, we got out all the "thank you" cards to those family members, friends and colleagues who had either given gifts or contributed time to make the event happen. Miss Manners would be so proud!

We had actually asked people not to give gifts. Early on in the planning, Fritz said that we both had enough stuff and were, in point of fact, getting rid of stuff, so we didn't need MORE stuff. I very briefly toyed with saying that one never REALLY has enough opera CDs but had an idea just how far that would get me, and so I said nothing. What we did say is that if those we loved wanted to do something nice for us, contributions to the LAMBDA Legal Defense Fund or to GLAD in our names would be the perfect thing to do.

Several people did make such contributions which pleased us a great deal. Several others also gave gifts, the majority of which were very personal, some of which they had make themselves. His older sister, T., made a stunning quilt for us. She had sent a questionnaire on our likes and dislikes, favorite things and holidays and based the design on that. Fabric samples with patterns and colors we liked were incorporated, as well as bits of fabric going back a couple of generations in the family. The stitching spelled out our names in the border and my name in Chinese appears in a vertical band that separates sections of the design. I had a chop of my name translated into Mandarin made when I was in Beijing and use that on my business card and it appeared also on the wedding invitation. One of Fritz's nephews by marriage made a terra cotta sculpture inspired in part by Rodin's "The Kiss," except that both of the lovers are men. And others gave of their time and talents, like B. the Chef whose wonderful wedding cake was a huge hit with everybody. Two old friends gave the book "Men Together: Portraits of Love, Commitment and Life," a moving portrait of a couple of dozen gay couples of different ages, races, styles and talents.

Brechi wished us a good weekend trip to the coast of Maine and it turned out to be most enjoyable, although no cooler or less humid than Boston had been. We dropped in on a great colleague of mine, now head of the undergraduate Latin program at the University of Chicago. She and I had a fabulous time for about a dozen years taking high school students to Europe on study-travel tours (the study was extremely serious and gave them a U. of Chicago college credit they could take anywhere with them and that looked great on college applications). We both taught and shared organization and chaperone work. I watched her save a number of students (with Latin, of all things) who were gifted but drifting dangerously. I always thought of her as an intellectual Auntie Mame, seducing young imaginations with culture, languages, manners, history and a nice sampling of food and wine of the countryside.

We lunched at Chauncy Creek Lobster Pier in Kittery, on a big deck built over the water with tents to shade the tables, and feasted on mussels in wine and garlic, lobster roll and seafood chowder. Then a slow trip back to New Hampshire, stopping at whatever caught our eye along the way like a surprisingly well preserved fort at the mouth of the Piscataqua River built in the 18th century and reinforced for the Civil War. It was fun and we were together--a perfect day.


Saturday, August 28, 2004

 
It's very early Saturday morning and I'm about to shower and head up to Fritz's for most of the weekend. Sunday evening at 5pm is my second meeting with the gay book group--they liked my suggestion of Dan Savage's "Skipping towards Gomorrah" so that's the book we'll discuss this month--at poolside high on Fort Hill in a wonderful section of Roxbury where you can still find properties with an acre and a half of land even in a heavily developed area of the city.

Fritz and I will probably spend today on the coast of Maine because the weather is expected to be hot and extremely humid--the sort of weather I hate with a vengeance. As I laid my clothing out this morning, my cat got up, stretched and walked over to my shirt, walked around on it for a while in circles to get it nice and soft, lay down in the exact geographic center of it and got comfortable for the first big nap of the day. This is very cat of her. The shirt didn't smell of cat yet and all new laundry MUST smell of cat ASAP. It goes deeper than that however. When I lay out sewing patterns, every cat I have ever lived with loves to settle down on that lightly crinkly tissue paper. Not alone that, they have an unerring instinct for the exact pattern piece you're going to need next. I have run this by friends who are costume designers or just home sewing enthusiasts and there is unanimity of opinion on this point. All cats instinctively know the exact sequence of assembling every garment ever invented. It's one of nature's great mysteries.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, August 27, 2004

 
Just a little bit of history made here at MIT yesterdy by the election of our very first female president of the Institute, Susan Hockfield, currently Provost of Yale University. Professor Hockfield is a Neuroscientist (Neurobiologist is the specific discipline) who announced that her agenda would emphasize collaborative work and interdisciplinary research and study. As Neuroscience is the current hot, developing department on campus; because MIT is dedicated to hiring more female professors and managers; and as MIT scientists have traditionally worked in isolation, fearful of collaboration--and have sometimes had difficulties adapting to the corporate or research jobs for which they are so qualified, therefore--her appointment makes a lot of sense in many areas. As far as I'm concerned, personally, the stress she placed in her acceptance speech on the importance of the arts and humanities is good news indeed.

She is not an MIT graduate, being only the second non-alum to become president. The man she succeeds was the first, Charles Vest who has become much beloved here as a person and much admired for his accomplishemnts. When Vest announced his retirement from MIT, there were calls from many in the entrenched culture here that the time had come to return an alumnus as president "because he will understand." "He" was of course a given--the entrenched were not considering a woman--and what this proposed "he" was to have understood was the entrenched culture--and therefore not try to change it.

Professor Hockfield's husband, Thomas N. Byrne, is Clinical Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Internal Medicine at Yale’s School of Medicine, and they have a daughter. Neuroscience runs in the family, obviously, but maybe their daughter will want to be a modern dancer, who knows? It would be kind of fun if she did. In any event we're going to have an interesting and stimulating introductory period to our new president. Having the 'tute shaken up every now and again is a good process.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

 
I went to bed about midnight and read some more Dan Savage for about a half hour. Then I turned off the light and realized I was really still wired. I've always been an early riser (I rarely need more than five and a half to six hours of sleep at the most) and that remains the case, but I'm turning into a night owl as well. It took a while to fall asleep and I awoke feeling really refreshed at 5:10am. Very strange. Of course, I get a lot more done during the day this way but I wonder long term if this is really healthy.

I think I shouldn't have read the material I posted yesterday concerning the Texas Republican Party Platform. I have been approaching next week's Republican convention with a feeling of mounting unease and I think reading what amounts to a fascist agenda kicked me over the edge into pure and simple dread. The commentators are saying that what we will probably see is a "kinder, gentler" convention next week, one designed to soothe the country into believing that those right wing, fundamentalist Republicans are really nice decent, friendly folk--even gay-friendly after Cheney's remarks on Tuesday--after all. But I don't believe it for one moment. Not the commentators--they're probably right. The Republicans. It's the Rebublicans and the present administration in particular that I don't trust any further than I could spit at it. And I worry about the unbridled, arrogant use of presidential power we could see if Bush is actually elected this time and in a position to claim a mandate no matter how slender the margin of victory.

We HAVE to win this one. There's no other acceptable outcome.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

 
Three things of interest occurred yesterday: a copy of selections from the platform of the Texas Republican Party arrived on my office computer, the CBS Nightly News ran a telling story on the shrinking of the traditional Protestant majority to below 50% of the population for the first time in the nation's history, and Dick Cheney suddenly addressed same-sex marriage in public in a supportive manner.

The Texas platform is a rabidly conservative document calling for the immediate reinstatement of the anti-sodomy laws, condemning in harsh terms same-sex marriage or even the concept of a homosexual "couple"
as well as homosexuality itself; ridiculing the "myth" of separation of church and state; advocating unrestricted gun ownership, the removal of "activist" judges, suppression of scientific versions of creation from being taught in favor of the Biblical version and a return to corporal punishment in schools, etc., etc. The environment, it tells us, is best served by people working in their own best personal interests. There is a great deal more in this vein on a wide variety of subjects. The Texas platform has not been rejected or, apparently, even frowned upon by the National Committee of the Republican Party.

The CBS Nightly News item examined a Nebraska community (as typical of a national trend) where three main-line Protestant Churches have merged their congregations, closing the Methodist and Presbyterian churchs due to severely declining attendance. Here in Boston, where the news has been full only of the closing of over 80 local Catholic churches due to a lack of attendance, word that Protestant denominations were in trouble hadn't gotten much if any attention. Among the reasons listed for the Protestant decline were changing patterns of immigration into the U.S. (great numbers of hispanic Catholics coming to the country), steadily increasing secularism throughout the U.S., and simple loss of faith among the nation's young people. The huge success of what the story called regional mega-churches has not helped reverse the decline although it may have contributed to the thinning of local, small-town congregations.

The Texas platform, that looks like a return to McCarthy-era paranoid conservatism along with an unhealthy dose of extreme religious fundamentalism, is a pretty obvious attempt to turn the clock back to very scary times. If Protestantism is declining as fast as the CBS report suggests, there may be a hint of desperation in it;
perhaps Texas Republicans fear the rise of a younger, better educated, more liberal generation and want to circle the wagons around "traditional" exclusive and repressive values before it gets even "worse" for them.

What, then, to make of Cheney's statement when asked about same-sex marriage, that freedom means freedom for everyone? He went on to say people should be free to form the kind of relationship they want. This was said during an appearance in the Heartland. The media is reporting a "softening" of Cheney's stand on the subject, even a "break" with George Bush. Has Mary Cheney FINALLY gotten to her father?

These are excerpts from the 2004 Texas Republican Party Platform as sent to me by the LBGT Coordinator here at MIT:
The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation ,and the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history. Our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible. The Party affirms freedom of religion, and rejects efforts of courts and secular activists who seek to remove and deny such a rich heritage from our public lives.

Early Childhood Development -The Party believes that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development years (ages 0 through 5) and opposes mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. The Party urges Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development , and phase them out as soon as possible.

Classroom Discipline - We urge the Texas Legislature, Governor, Commissioner of Education and State Board of Education to remind administrators and school boards that corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas .

Party believes theories of life origins and environmental theories should be taught only as theories not fact ; that social studies and other curriculum should not be based on any one theory.

We call on the Legislature to end all state funding of higher educations grants and scholarships.

The Party believes it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that we immediately rescind our membership in , as well as all financial and military contributions to, the United Nations.

We believe that human life is sacred, created in the image of God. Life begins at the moment of fertilization and ends at the point of natural death. All innocent human life must be protected.

We oppose the Endangered Species Act.

The Party calls for restoration of the plaques honoring the Confederate Widow's Pension Fund contribution that were illegally removed from the Texas Supreme Court and other state buildings.

The Party calls upon the Texas Legislature and the United States Congress to repeal any and all laws that infringe upon the right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution; and to reject the establishment of any mechanism to process, license, record, register or monitor the ownership of guns.

Our Party pledges to exert its influence to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State .

We also deplore forced sensitivity training and urge the repeal of laws and mandates requiring such training. We believe the Hate Crimes Law is unnecessary, and that it unconstitutionally creates a special class of victims. We urge that it be repealed immediately.

We oppose the recognition of and granting of benefits to people who represent themselves as domestic partners without being legally married.

No fault divorce laws have caused untold hardships on American families, by reducing their standard of living, and by harming the emotional and physical well-being of children. It has contributed to an increase in government assistance of all kinds. We call upon the Texas Legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws.

Homosexuality - The Party believes that the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country's founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable "alternative" lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should "family" be redefined to include homosexual "couples." We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, recognition, or privileges including, but not limited to, marriage between persons of the same sex, custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

The Party supports legislation prohibiting experimentation with human fetal tissue and prohibiting the use of human fetal tissue or organs for experimentation or commercial sale. Until such time that fetal tissue harvesting is illegal, any product containing fetal tissue shall be so labeled.


Stem Cell Research - We commend the President for banning the government funding of human embryo stem cell harvesting and call upon the US Congress to pass legislation supporting the President. The Party opposes any legislation that would allow for the destruction of human embryos for medical research.

The Party believes that commercial surrogacy is a legal and ethical free-fall and the rental of a woman's womb makes child bearing a mere commodity to the highest bidder.

Behavior has personal and social consequences. We call upon the United States Public Health Service and all states to declare HIV a "dangerous, yet preventable, infectious, communicable disease."

The Party supports amendment of the Americans with Disabilities Act to exclude from its definition those persons with infectious diseases, substance addiction, learning disabilities, behavior disorders, homosexual practices and mental stress, thereby reducing abuse of the Act

Monday, August 23, 2004

 
The annual trip to Cooperstown for the Glimmerglass Opera Festival went beautifully, excepting the torrential rain on Saturday. Cooperstown sits in some of the most lushly beautiful hill, lake and rolling farm country in the Northeast, so it's always a pleasure just to BE there. I d0n't go with Fritz because he isn't into opera and would be bored to tears waiting for me to get out of one Friday evening, two Saturday and one Sunday afternoon performances. I go instead with a gay OB (opera buddy) from Manchester, Connecticut.

J. is an old friend and we had always joked about saving the Baseball Hall of Fame for "some day" when we had exhausted every other possibility of amusing ourselves on Saturday morning waiting for the matinee opera to begin. Imagine my surprise when on the way out he announced that THIS was the year, and that I could accompany him or not, but he was visiting the Hall of Fame. I said of course I would go--I am not a big fan but I know a thing or three about baseball and anyway, how bad could it be?

Well, it was very good as a matter of fact and there was one huge high point. There is the museum, and there is the Great Hall where bronze plaques memorializing each inductee hang in honor. We saved that for last and hit the exhibits that were informative and, aside from some questionable lighting that caused too much reflection off the glass coverings of the cases, very well designed. First of all, the real story isn't always in those cases but sometimes in front of them. Fathers--kneeling on one knee with a six or eight year old standing clutching the other, explaining to their fascinated sons just who Ted Williams was or what the fielder's choice is--were acting out the mythic American ritual of passing baseball from one generation to the next. This is an area, I fear, where I failed my father who certainly tried to give it his best shot. It was a poignant moment to see the awe and interest these sturdy little boys gave back to their fathers in an initiation into the rites of manhood I was never able to share with mine.

The quality of writing on the history of the sport and the lives of its players is highly accomplished. Most featured players share a big floor to ceiling, eight foot wide case with two or three others but Babe Ruth, THE Babe, gets a whole room of his own. Ruth's career was huge but when decline set in, it progressed quickly. Despite a smattering of good or even brilliant games late in his career, the last years were sad ones. The bio of his second wife Claire is highly laudatory and contains one wonderful phrase stating that she "was able to control most of his non-professional activities." It seems so simple a statement, but it's so generous to the man and elegant in its tribute to the woman, suggesting in the use of the word "control" controlled substances without ever directly mentioning the painful realities.

Leaving the Ruth Room, I walked into another section and found myself standing directly in front of a case labeled in big letters, "Fred Merkle's Boner." Say what?! I quickly read the first line of the text: "Fred Merkle's boner occured in a season that featured a three-way . . . " I was stunned. I quickly peered into the case to make sure the long cylincrical object really was Merkle's bat and not a cast of, well, that boner. I was in a family institution--was that little boy standing proud by his father's knee in for an initiation into manhood beyond his wildest dreams?

J. and I had a good laugh. Of course, "boner" was used in the alternate meaning of an error or stupid mistake, and the text continued with, "three-way rivalry among (names of three ball teams), etc. But I mentioned to J. that the Baseball Hall of Fame is an institution founded BY men, ABOUT men, FOR men and that somebody had to have been aware of just what they were setting up when writing as they had.

The climax was a visit to the Hall of Honor. It's a tall, blond wood-lined room, unmistakably shaped like a chapel, with bays off right and left and an apse at the head of the central nave. In the center of the apse are the plaques for the first year of induction, 1936, flanked by the honorees of the past four years. Plaques from all the other years from 1937 to 1999 are contained in the bays off the nave.

The number of honorees for the last five or so years includes an an increasing number of men who played in the Negro League back in the old days of legalized racial discrimination in this country. I hope many were still alive when the sport they had played so well embraced their accomplishements at last.



Friday, August 20, 2004

 
Fritz and I have no interest of any kind in watching people eat maggots while dangling from helicopters so TV viewing isn't too rich a feast for us these days. But for some reason on Wednesday night there was a lot of the kind of thing that interests us. In addition to fine looking young men wearing virtually nothing in the service of international sport, there was a relatively intelligent documentary on the design and operation of the Colisseum in Rome, a fascinating program on the construction of the new Athens subway system, its engineering and how the antiquities discovered in the process were handled, and a lovely retrospective on the career of Julia Child.

My memory was jogged on something I had wanted to include in yesterday's blog, a cartoon from The New Yorker magazine many years ago just after Julia's TV program had hit big. TV cooking shows prior to Julia had been very tame, almost academic affairs and the camera work on the early ones suffered from the concept that the food and its preparation were all that counted, not the personality of the chef. So, the cameras all had a fixed focus at counter and stove top height--you only saw the chef's hands but nothing above her (it was always her--the male chefs came later) upper torso. There were moving hands and a disembodied voice and a lot of chopping going on but what the chef looked like was a big mystery.

So, Julia comes along with personality to burn and accidents she had to rescue on screen, and the public's watching in droves, eating it all up. The New Yorker cartoon showed a pot-bellied, balding middle-aged man in a "wife beater" t-shirt sprawled in front of his TV in a broken down easy chair with a six pack of beer next to him watching a tall, powerfully built woman tenderizing some cut of meat with a wooden mallet. The caption was "That's it baby, beat the hell out of it!" Thus the universality of Julia's appeal. Oh yes, that and the fact that the afternoon after she first used what was then considered a European-style wire wisk, there reputedly wasn't a single one left on the shelves of any kitchen store within the route 495 ring around Boston.

I'm off to Cooperstown, New York this morning for my annual long weekend at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival. Yes, Virginia, there's something in Coopperstown besides the Baseball Hall of Fame (not that there's anything wrong with that!). The opera theater is a barn-like 900 seat hall whose side walls slide open like Japanese shoji screens during warm weather. Acoustics and sight lines are excellent. Top international directors flock to work there because of the four to five week rehearsal period for each opera, the beauty of the mid-New York State countryside and the challenging, highly rewarding repertory that is produced there.
I'll be back on Monday--have a great late summer weekend!


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

 
During our great weekend I wasn't checking the news as often as I normally do and I missed the announcement of Julia Child's passing. She was, of course, a Boston icon and much beloved. She shopped for all her ingredients herself at local Boston and Cambridge markets and Fritz ran into her once outside Sage's gourmet food store in Harvard Square. I got to see her in action close up during the years when I was designing Hasty Pudding Shows, the famous Harvard University drag musicals featuring outrageous puns and all-male kick lines.

Actor Jack Lemmon, who was actually a Harvard grad, was the Man of the Year one year and present at the opening night. He was on stage accepting his award when the host(ess) announced a surprise, and down the aisle of the theater charged Julia waving a spoon and a brass Hasty Pudding pot. Now despite his stature as an actor, Lemmon was short and wiry whereas The French Chef was a big woman--over six feet and blessed with the bones of a football player. As she bore down on him, Lemmon looked really scared and when she said she had come to feed him some hasty pudding (essentially Indian Pudding made from cornmeal, molasses, eggs and milk) he got out "I'm not eating that shit!" just before she slammed a big spoonful of the stuff right in his mouth. As he stood there gagging and trying to get it down, she waved her equipment like a trophy and strode back down the aisle in triumph.

The opening night parties always featured some sort of cake big enough to feed the Bulgarian army. Julia stayed on as an honored guest and one of the Hasty Pudding boys, now in male formal wear but still with traces of eye make-up, made the mistake of asking her to cut the cake and do a tasting. She sliced away with a flourish and declared "Tasteless, dry white cake covered with crisco, confectioner's sugar and vanillin--why do people DO such things?" The crowd loved it.

My daughters and I used to watch her on PBS during dinnertime. She had a great sense of humor and one night made a running gag out of difficulties she had making Neapolitan Ice Cream. It's a complicated process involving alternate freezing and beating the mix to get the right consistency. The refrigerator on the set had the freezer on the bottom which made great sense for 99.9% of the shows she did--but not this one. She was well into her 60s and the knees were giving her trouble. So she made the basic mix, got down onto her knees, opened the freezer, put the bowl in and, while struggling back up said, "Goodness, you wonder why anyone would MAKE a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom."

She went on to something else for a while until it was time to do the next step on the ice cream. Same struggles down and up, followed by "It makes you wonder why anyone would BUY a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom," in a slightly ominous tone. Further work on the main course.

Time to add the candied fruit to the ice cream. Down and up with real trouble. "It makes you wonder why anyone would BUY SOMEONE ELSE a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom!" I had visions of the fridge on a hand truck on its way to the loading dock just as soon as the show was over.

When the fruit had been mixed in, she turned to the machine, looked at it hard, then opened the door to the refrigerator part and declared, "I'm going to put this in up here and we're all going to pretend it's in the freezer. That's the magic of television!"

She was a wonderfully larger than life personality and she helped revolutionize how America eats. Farewell and thanks for everything!



Tuesday, August 17, 2004

 
Saturday was THE day, the celebration of our reecent marriage. We had planned to be married in Haverhill, MA that morning and then go back over the border to New Hampshire for the Quaker ceremony and the big party. But, as most of you know, we diod the civil marriage in May in Brookline near my house out of distrust of Governor Romney. We later read in The Advocate and in Bay Windows that large numbers of other couples married before they had planned for just the same reason. The poor miserable S.O.B. wasn't able to stop same-sex marriage but he's still obsessing.

So, all of our families drove or flew in, our close colleagues gathered from several states, friends from all parts of our lives arrived at the little Friends Meeting house in West Epping, NH for the Quaker union that was, for us, the spiritual marriage. In the event of hot weather, Fritz had ordered 120 Japenese fold-out fans in six jewel colors and left them on the pews for people. The place was jammed, the weather was comfortable but we could still sit on the raised bench facing the congregation and see all these bright fans making a lovely breeze.

As Clerk of Meeting, Fritz explained the ceremony to those (most of them) who had never been to a Quaker service. We then had ten minutes of silent meditation after which we stood and said our vows to each other, exchanged the rings his nephew S. had made for us, and kissed to applause and cheers. Then there was another silent period, what I call the "open mic" time since any individuals moved to speak could stand and say whatever they wished. R., the Cantor of a Synagog, rose and read a section from the Song of Songs and then she sang it in Hebrew in an expressive soprano. About twenty others spoke as well, one telling the others that by coming to Meeting they were now responsible for supporting and sharing our joy. My elder daughter--the shy one--surprised me by speaking, telling the story of how I had first told her and her sister about the wonderful man I had met. H. the architect told the story of how Fritz and I met at his place (discretely omitting the details that we were all naked and I was on a massage table looking up at two gorgeous French blue eyes), and of how two days later at almost the exact same time we both called him asking for the other's phone number.

The party was incredible, everybody mixed and fell into conversation readily, gay men with straight cousins, MIT people with New Hampshire neighbors and Board of Directors lesbians. B. the historical conservator surprised us all by bringing eight Indian or Nepalese garden umbrellas in bright jewel colors printed with metallic gold patterns, topped with carved brass finials and bordered by rich silk fringes. They had been bought for Gay Pride, eight guys twirling them like parasols as they marched the streets of Boston. For us, they were a delightful border for the patio area. Then one of my new sisters-in-law ran in and said we had to come out and see the rainbow. It hadn't rained--this was a quarter rainbow just up in the clouds directly above the Center. Fritz's nephew, official photographer for the day, got us together and shot from below, so the rainbow would come out on the film floating just above our heads. A cry went up from lots of people that this was a sign to the homophobes that gay marriage is good!

We did family pictures and then we went up to the balcony over the entrance, turned our backs and tossed our carnation boutonierres over our shoulders to all the single men. B. the Chef's cake was a huge hit. Almost half the crowd stayed for the informal picnic dinner that started around 6:30 and was going almost until dark. I drank LOTS of champagne. Fritz and I danced. My side of the family and Fritz's side of the family, all meeting each other for the first time, traded phone numbers and email addresses like mad. The first CD of wedding pictures had been burned and could be viewed by breakfast the next morning. It was the happiest, most wonderful weekend possible.



Friday, August 13, 2004

 
The news from California yesterday was heartbreaking--all the same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco declared void. And the bizarre coming out cum resignation of the Governor of New Jersey was just the meat upon the religious right feeds. The deeply unfortunate grovelling and apologies and the evident self-loathing of that poor man! I hope at some point in time he manages to come to a place where he recognizes the value and beauty of his gayness--but it sure wasn't yesterday.

I have not been religious for years. But one religious site where I felt majorly at home was the Shrine of Apollo at Delphi in Greece. I visited there in the summer of 1997 with a colleague from the University of Chicago. The site is spectacular, hanging over a great gorge, two thirds of the way up a mountainside overlooking a vast plain and seemingly right up in the sky. Apollo came to Delphi as a young man, a golden blonde beauty ion search of his godhood. At Delphi he wrestled with Python (almost certainly a phallic figure as so many snakes are in Eastern and European myth) and emerged the astonishingly handsome sun god of Greek myth, patron and protector of the arts,3 and symblol of rational thought. What's not for a gay man to love?

At Delphi sat the Oracle, suspended over a cleft in an underground cavern from which emerged gasses and vapors. The oracle answered questions in the Greek manner--not with a clear command or answer, but with ambiguities inciting the suppliant to further self examination and thought. As Christianity grew, visits to the Shrine declined until the Oracle one day cried out to all of Greece warning that the link to the Gods was dying. Within a year the Christian Roman Emperor had ordered the site closed and it was abandoned. The buildings fell not to nobles seeking carved pillars and facing stones for their palaces, but to earthquakes and weather. Still, there is much to see. Excavations have brought up incredible statues of Apollo from formal Archaic monoliths with the set, sweet smile of that style that welcome and calm the visitor, to later, more realistic pieces showing the god as a muscular, supremely confident thirty year old at the height of his power, physical beauty and mental acuity.

At the time of my visit I was--and still am, actually-- trying to figure out why monotheism is supposed to be such a big deal. I have a sense that the "pagan" polytheistic religion admitted to a fascinating form of psychiological and even psychiatric wellbeing with each god or goddess representing a different part of the psyche and the human given the task of finding the middle way through all of them. Their religion managed to fully integrate sexuality into all aspects of the self in a very healthy approach to life, an approach I see working itself out in a fellow blogger who integrates the pulpit with the bathhouse in a way I find admirable.

And apparently, I am not alone. A friend and colleague, M., visited Delphi a couple of years after I did and came back with an interesting story. He was standing on the edge of a precipice overlooking the gorge when a Greek man approached the edge to gaze out over the plain. Calmly, with no sense of self-conciousness or
embarrassment, the man unzipped his fly, pulled out his penis and began to masturbate, taking long, unhurried strokes until he shot long arcs over the edge and deep into the gorge, like white rainbows linking the ancient Shrine to the earth below. Then he tucked in his penis, zipped up, nodded politely to M. and strode away to continue his visit. For one brief moment the spirit of Apollo strode the ancient crags once again.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

 

We got a call from B. the Chef the other day. He’s doing the cake for our celebration of marriage this Saturday and he said we had to talk. He was having “architectural issues” with the cake. I thought this was terribly appropriate—I’m a scenic designer, a profession that has strong historical connections with architecture. I have also designed my own home to be built eventually here on Fritz’s property, an energy self-sufficient earth sheltered home in Moroccan style that an architect friend of mine said was good enough that he would simply stamp it with his seal any time I wanted to begin construction. So I figured that between us we could compute the load to stress ratios of lemon pound cake spans and asked with interest what the issues were.

It seems lemon mousse is NOT a good connective stratum between the base layer and the upper levels. The previous weekend, a cake so constructed had slowly become a Tower of Pisa clone during the ceremony and while disaster had been averted and a good time had by all, B. did not want to go through all that again. We discussed the best fillings for vertical stability and seismic safety and all should be well.

Landmark life events always get me into introspective moods. I don’t generally flagellate myself over events in my past or problems that come up from time to time (a weekend of lightweight flogging a year or so with a couple of friends is a COMPLETELY different matter!). I grew up pretty isolated. No siblings, a kid deeply involved with the arts and reading history and biography from age seven or eight who had been placed in a school and who lived in a neighborhood that had absolutely no respect for that sort of thing, I learned to be self sufficient. Fortunately, I grew out of that insularity but to this day if circumstance places me in a situation where I have to be alone for extended periods of time, I can handle it very well.

I also developed my own take on things. My early development of an independent spirit meant that I never took well to being ordered around. Having the Catholic view of things sternly imposed cemented my resistance to being ordered around. The military and I would have been a HUGE disaster, but when I got called up for my pre-induction physical by the draft board, they decided that doing what I had been doing with—and to—the music major in my dorm for the previous year wasn’t quite what they were looking for. In terms of personal philosophy, I never saw the point of studying and following a particular school of thought set down by somebody else. I developed my own set of ethics and am probably what is called a secular humanist (although I resist labels like the plague—they have been used for such disreputable purposes). I figure that if I'm living my life in a way that helps to support my fellow beings and am not doing so in a manner that is intentionally hurtful to anybody else, then I’m in a pretty good space.


Sunday, August 08, 2004

 
Designerblog: The First Anniversary Edition

If time flies when you're having fun, it also holds big surprises. One year ago today I posted a blog entry for the very first time, after several months reading a variety of blogs in growing interest. I wrote an informative, somewhat cautious statement of who I am and what I hoped to achieve by going onto the web as an out gay man. One of those goals was to make contact with the gay web community whose openness and honesty I had deeply admired. One year later, I have a relatively small (but choice, of course!) readership and the pleasure of corresponding with a group of men (and an occasional, most welcome woman) whose politics, interests, personalities and style of sexual expression span a very wide range.

It's been an astonishing year to be gay in America, and I have had the immense good fortune to be at the epicenter. When I clicked the "Publish Post" button for the first time, none of us of could have dreamed of same sex marriage and the huge push for gay and lesbian civil rights that would result . . . or, sadly, the equally fierce backlash that would see our loving, committed couples classified along with those practicing bestiality, incest, polygamy (like the Mormons), or the abuse of children. Along the way I have met and come to befriend a number of fine men who have broadened my understanding of the depth, richness, fun and sorrows of gay life in America in the 21st century.

Personally, I became a husband on May 23rd, Fritz's and my seventh anniversary, and a nurse on June 6th when he awoke from a quadruple bypass operation two weeks to the hour after we had heard the words "I declare you married!" I don't think I've ever said this before, but in the seven plus years we have been together, there has never passed between us a harsh or angry word. I don't pretend to know how this has come about other than to say I think each of us realizes that the love and respect we have for each other overwhelms any possible thought of ill feeling. I do know that our relationship is a source of strength, laughter, outrageous silliness and profound intimacy.

Thanks to all of you who have come along for the ride; I do hope to meet at least some of you in person before too much longer. Whether you are near or far, you are always welcome here and you enrich this experience for me immeasurably.



Friday, August 06, 2004

 
The evening started out so nicely. Lovely, cool dry air and gold colored early evening sun. A perfect time to mow the lawn and do other yard work. I have an electric mower that works like a charm and isn't ear-splittingly noisy. I was almost finished and started working the last patch in the back between my parking slip and my grape arbor when I ever so innocently ran over the lair of a previously unknown (to me) colony of ground hornets.

They were devastating. A cloud of them hit me before I realized what was happening, most of them going for my scalp and upper body. Some went at my thighs, making it through my jeans without any apparent resistence by the denim. I made it out of the yard and around to the front of the house but they were on me all the way. I got inside and closed the door but several got in and followed me upstairs to the batheroom where I desperately wanted to reach my supply of antihistimine tablets. I managed to kill a couple and brush the others off me, grabbed the vial of tablets and shut them in. I then ran down to the kitchen for some flying insect spray and back upstairs to spray at random into the bathroom. I swallowed a bit more than the recommended number of antihistimines and called Fritz because by then I needed to hear his voice very much indeed.

It's about an hour later now. The tablets seem to have prevented much of the swelling I know about from a couple of previous hornet hits I got up at Fritz's--but only from one or two, not the whole damn colony. I'm not having any serious reactions. I peeked into the bathroom a while ago and saw many more dead hornets than I thought could possibly have gotten into the house with me. My cat worked like a pointer, staring fixedly at places on the carpet where any hornets I had missed were lying undetected.

I had planned to write a bit about my personal philosophy tonight but I think it's going to be early to bed instead.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

 
Fritz and I are nine days away from our wedding celebration and it's going to be very much what we wanted except for one thing--the number of guests. We made up a list of all of our family members, close friends, and colleagues. As the proprietor of a successful and influential conference and education center that has served many constituencies (teachers, nurses, businesses of all kinds) including a good sized gay community, there were a lot of possibilities. I forget exactly how many invitations we sent out, but it was 80, tops. We have had 129 acceptances so far.

Our first mistake was believing the old formula that if you send out 80 invitations (especially in the summer when a lot of people are away) about half will accept. Either everybody we know is too poor to go away or we have suddenly become America's Sweathearts, because we had about an 85 to 90% acceptance and many are bringing the expected spouse, partner, boyfriend, etc. A few are double dipping. You remember our friend R., the hot Catholic priest with the hot date? He emailed us today asking if he could bring his hot FB as well. As it turned out, we had already invited the FB on our own (we're no fools) but we got a good laugh out of the whole situation. After which, Fritz called the caterer and told him there'd be about ten more for hot and cold hors d'oevres.

This morning we got together with a friend to clean up the Friends (Quaker) Meeting House which is the site of the first part of the celebration. I'm not religious but I have come to enjoy going to Quaker Meeting with Fritz.
The Quakers have a long history of inclusion and were the first denomination in the U.S. to give full recognition and welcome to gays and lesbians. There's no dogma, no clergy and one can, in fact, be an athiest
and still be a Quaker. Meeting is held on the first and third Sundays of the month and is a silent meeting, involving an hour of meditation followed by light refreshment and talk. Ideally, the mind is emptied completely of any willful thought for the entire hour. I can't quite manage that yet, if indeed I ever can, and I told Fritz honestly one day on our way home that I often used the quiet hour to work out design problems I was experiencing. He said that was just fine.



Wednesday, August 04, 2004

 
I’ve started doing ab crunches again after being away from them for rather too long. Formal exercise for me has always been a feast or famine kind of proposition. I really love it when I get the daily discipline thing going and leap out of bed in the early morning to do thirty minutes or so on my stationary bike followed by some weight bench work. But should that routine get interrupted by a trip away or by a production that takes up every available minute, it can be a considerable time before I get that routine cranked up again.

I went out several years ago looking for some guest room-friendly home exercise equipment and walked into a sale winding down at an exercise store in the Cambridgeside Galleria mall near MIT. There was a fine little weight bench out on the selling floor and when I expressed cautious interest, a sales clerk seemed very anxious to oblige. Turns out, it was the last one of a model the store was discontinuing and they were anxious to get it out of the store. An offer was made that was totally irresistible and I drove away with the bench and some basic weight equipment all for $50.00

There is a serious and deadly rash of street violence going on in certain Boston neighborhoods that city officials are moving fast and hard to stop. It’s all based on street gang rivalries and is about as brazen as it gets. Broad daylight attacks on rival gang members in crowded, highly public places like basketball courts, etc. have resulted in a lot of innocents getting shot and seriously injured or even killed. Note to gang members: learn to aim a gun, dummies. Bad enough you engage in this kind of behavior—at least rub each other out and leave the city’s innocent, law-abiding children alone.


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

 
OK, it’s pretty well known I’m not a sports fan but I do enjoy the occasional baseball game (mostly on TV where camera work allows me to follow the drama and tensions of the players in what is really great sports theater); I’m a Bostonian, damn it, and therefore an automatic participant in that great and continuing soap opera that is the Boston Red Sox.

Can anyone explain the team’s self-destructive instincts? They seem to operate no matter what the ownership or management of the Red Sox, an inherited dysfunctionality that that is passed from one generation to the next and is manifested in the team’s trading away (or allowing to escape) many of their finest players even in the midst of seasons that need all the high performers they can get their hands on. The latest trade is, of course, Nomar. Here was a fine player, a real leader among his teammates, and a beloved, tireless worker in various Boston communities for various charitable enterprises. He’s just the latest in a long list. I know all about “The Curse of the Bambino,” but this seems to me to go well beyond that, a kind of Sox Culture that cuts its best and brightest just when it needs them most.

I don’t think I’d ever wondered exactly what I am worth on the open market—until yesterday. I’m not talking about net worth, the sum total of all my assets, etc., but what my body would fetch should I ever decide to put it up for sale. (No, not THAT kind of “sale.”) Thanks to a referral from Groeg’s blog, I went to a site that asks a few key questions about educational level, age, sexual orientation, physical condition, size (Yes, including THAT kind of “size”) and personal habits, and quickly gives you an estimate of your free market value: a Kelley Blue Book for human beings.

There are separate questionnaires for men and women. I looked at the list of most highly valued men before filling out the questionnaire and found that just over $3 million was the top price. All the guys in the Top 10 seemed to be between 17 and 24 and there’s a related site (Face the Jury.com) that includes their pictures, profiles and contact info if they have chosen to completely reveal themselves in public (Yes, THAT kind of “reveal,” as many are photographed in various stages of undress).

I thought that a middle aged gay male up to his neck in the arts and academia would probably check out at a bargain basement price--but how wrong I was! My estimate message read "You are worth exactly: $2,138,960.00," a full million off the high end but comfortably above the huddled masses at mid-price, bien sur (ability to speak a foreign language is one of the questions). When I have the time I’ll go back for fun and try again, each time with a single variation to see if my value spikes should everything else remain the same but I identify as straight, or cheat a little on that size thing. The URL is http://www.humanforsale.com/ If any of you decides to do this thing, please post a comment on how much you turn out to be worth--I want to know the value of my readership!


Monday, August 02, 2004

 
Nice weekend. Fritz and I began it Saturday morning at the ferry dock in Portsmouth, NH picking up a friend of his of long standing who had just come over from the Isles of Shoals.

This cluster of nine originally barren hiltops rising from the open ocean ten miles out at sea has a fascinating history. Located in the middle of what was the single richest fishing grounds within English colonial America, they were charted first by Champlain and settled first by Captain John Smith of Jamestown Colony and Pocahontas fame. He modestly named them the Smith Islands but the name that stuck refers to the vast shoals of fish to be had there. (There is talk of Vikings having put in at the Isles, but they're claimed to have been all over the east coast, mostly in places they could never have gotten to.) Everything has to be brought in, particularly drinking water as the islands have no source of their own except whatever rain can be collected. Five of the islands (whose names are Star, Smuttynose, Appledore, Malaga, Cedar, Seavey, White, Duck and Lunging) are within Maine's border and four in New Hampshire's. Access is entirely by boat and there are very few permanent residents--mainly a few lobstering families, marine research personnel and the staff of the big conference center on Star.

During the 19th century, a sort of "grand hotel" was built high on the rocky knob of Star Island and there was a vogue for what we might call "extreme vacations" in a isolated atmosphere where nature could be grand and quite beautiful or shockingly harsh. Fresh water use was strictly limited and there was little to do other than commune with nature, read and simply "get away," something that, as it turned out, a lot of people wanted to do. Another group residence was built on Appledore to house conferences and retreats sponsored by the Unitarian Church. When it burned, the Unitarians purchased the hotel on Star and continued their activities
there. The ferry runs out and back a couple of times a day to deliver supplies and pump water into the hotel's cistern. Most of the passengers are aboard for a spectacular Portsmouth harbor cruise and to spend the day exploring Star's rugged topography. But only those who are part of the staff or who are conference-goers can stay the night. Conferees are allowed only two short showers a week, but there are wash basins and pitchers of water in every room. There are no TVs in the hotel and any radios brought over must be used with an ear plug. Food is basic but good New England fare. B. had spent a week there as she does every summer, this year being devoted to a study on the ecology, management and spirituality of water.

Once B. was ashore, we headed a few miles up the coast to Chauncy Creek, a big lobster, clam and mussel place built on pilings over the creek itself. Places like this are plentiful along the Maine coast but most are far smaller and less comfortable. The broad deck has canpies over most of it. We settled under shade at the rail of the deck watching all the boat traffic on the creek--actually a broad channel between two harbors--and tucked into shellfish and lobsters and my favorite, mussels steamed in white wine and garlic.

Monday AM and I'm back in Boston. The air is hot and stagnant, I'm having trouble jump starting my day and the idea of Star's cool fresh breeze and lack of noise is very seductive.



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